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Featherstone v. Lowe

November 30, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kosik


Todd M. Featherstone, an inmate confined at the Pike County Correctional Facility, Lords Valley, Pennsylvania, filed the instant civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 on November 24, 2006.*fn1 Named as defendants are Craig A. Lowe, Warden, and William Sprague, Doctor. In his complaint, plaintiff questions the medical treatment that he is receiving for back problems. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The case is before the court for preliminary screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons which follow, the complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).


In his "Statement of Claim," plaintiff alleges that he had lower back surgery in 1999 and that before entering the Pike County Correctional Facility, he was told he needed a "spine fuzion." Plaintiff states that when he entered the Correctional Facility, he advised the defendant*fn2 of his back problems. At that time, plaintiff was prescribed 50 mg. of "Elavil" for pain. Plaintiff complained of pain over time and his medication dosage was increased to 100 mg. Plaintiff alleges that his back condition worsened while incarcerated. He complained of shooting pain down the right side of his body and numbness down the left side. He also complained of headaches, problems walking up and down stairs and lack of sleep. He complains that he is constantly in pain. Plaintiff claims that he informed the defendant of his increased symptoms, and the defendant increased his medication dosage to 150 mg. Defendant put plaintiff on a list for an x-ray. Plaintiff further alleges that on October 31, 2006, the defendant went over the x-rays with the plaintiff and told the plaintiff it showed a little problem. Plaintiff requested an MRI to show soft tissue problems, and the defendant refused. The defendant acknowledged that plaintiff had pinched nerves. The defendant offered to increase plaintiff's medication, but plaintiff said he did not want more medication. Plaintiff said he wanted to know why he was having numbness and shooting pains and he told the defendant he wanted a second opinion. The defendant told plaintiff that he already explained to him why he was having pain and that when he was released, he could see any one he wanted. Plaintiff then notes that the defendant is a physician and not a back specialist.


Plaintiff is seeking to redress what he purports to be violations of his constitutional rights through 42 U.S.C. §1983. Section 1915(e)(2) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides:

(2) Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that - (A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

In reviewing a complaint to determine whether it fails to state a claim, the principles applied in a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) analysis are utilized. A motion to dismiss should not be granted if "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff [ ] may be entitled to relief . . . ." Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000). In making that decision, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 481-82 (3d Cir. 2000), and construe any reasonable inferences to be drawn from them in the plaintiff's favor. See United States v. Occidental Chemical Corp., 200 F.3d 143, 147 (3d Cir. 1999). Consequently, the court need not accept "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A district court should provide leave to amend "when amendment could cure the deficiency and would not be inequitable." Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002). A complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover, however, is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Id.

Plaintiff seeks to redress what he claims is a violation of his constitutional rights through 42 U.S.C. §1983. To state a claim under §1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The plaintiff appears to allege that his right to adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment was violated by defendant Sprague because he addressed plaintiff's complaints of back pain by increasing the dosage of his medication; only allowed plaintiff to receive an x-ray, not an MRI; and refused plaintiff's request for a second opinion.*fn3

The Eighth Amendment "requires prison officials to provide basic medical treatment to those [ ] incarcerated." Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)). To establish a medical claim based on the Eighth Amendment, an inmate must allege acts or omissions by prison officials sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 235-36 (3d Cir. 2004).

In Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 1999), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit set forth the standard necessary to establish a claim for deliberate indifference to a prisoner's medical needs. The Court stated:

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain contrary to contemporary standards of decency. In Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment requires prison officials to provide basic medical treatment to those whom it has incarcerated. The Court articulated the standard to be used: In order to state a cognizable claim, a prisoner must allege acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. It is only such indifference that can offend "evolving standards of decency" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 106, 97 S.Ct. 285. Therefore, to succeed under these principles, plaintiffs must demonstrate (1) that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to their medical needs and (2) that those needs were serious . . . . It is well settled that claims of negligence or medical malpractice, without some more culpable state of mind, do not constitute "deliberate indifference." As the Estelle Court noted: "[I]n the medical context, an inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care cannot be said to constitute 'an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' or to be 'repugnant to the conscience of mankind,'" Id. at 105, 97 S.Ct. 285 . . . Deliberate indifference, therefore, requires obduracy and wantonness . . . which has been likened to conduct that includes recklessness or a conscious disregard of a serious risk . . . .

Id. at 197 (some internal citations and quotations omitted).

Without the requisite mental state, a prison official's conduct alone will not constitute deliberate indifference. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837-38 (1994). Negligence, unsuccessful medical treatment, or medical malpractice do not give rise to a successful claim, and an inmate's disagreement with medical treatment is insufficient to ...

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